We make thousands of decisions a day and probably think that these are pretty rational but what if that wasn’t always the case? What if the reality was that our brains took shortcuts in order to help us make sense of the inordinate amount of data it has to deal with and to allow us to react quickly? That is the subject of Daniel Kahneman’s classic, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’.
The book in a nutshell
The book takes us on a ride through the intricate workings of our minds and describes the two systems that drive the way we think. Kahneman explains that contrary to our belief that logic guides our decisions, more often than not it is influenced by much deeper, older mental shortcuts.
Two systems but which one is in charge?
Kahneman refers to the systems in operation in our brains as System 1 and System 2. System 1 is quick and instinctive, some may call it effortless. System 2 on the other hand is slower and more deliberate, its work is more taxing. While System 1 seems to respond automatically, System 2 steps in when things get more complex. Kahneman makes the point that although we identify with System 2 we are equally and probably more often a reflection of System 1.
To illustrate the type of problem that sits in the domain of System 2 he uses the problem of multiplying 17 * 24. That problem for most of us requires significant mental effort. Contrast that with completing the phrase ‘bread and …’ which elicits an immediate response, that is the domain of System 1.
System 1 is fast but it sacrifices accuracy for that speed. As a result it comes to conclusions that are not necessarily rational in it’s bid to give us a quick and ready answer.
So how do System 1’s shortcuts affect us? They create a number of biases in our thinking. For example, Confirmation bias makes us seek and give credence to information that already agrees with our point of view. Anchoring, another bias, makes us overvalue the information that is presented to us first. These are just two of over 160 cognitive biases described in the literature.
Along with what is a compelling and detailed description of some of these biases, Kahneman also gives us techniques to help us recognise, guard against and overcome them. He shows us how to become aware of the biases that affect our decision making (fast thinking) and how to enlist the aid of System 2 (slow thinking) to come to more measured conclusions.
Cognitive biases and their impact on our decision-making is a subject of endless fascination and this book gets to the heart of the topic. After reading this book you will never look at any decision you make in the same way again. If you want to understand how your mind works, understand the mental biases that influence your decisions, especially those that move you away from your desired goals, then this book is a must read.